The Moment it all Changed

I look up, my heart beating fast. I just couldn’t bring myself to read anymore right now, I had too much on my mind. Making the most of each breath and appreciating every moment, it became obvious that I couldn’t live the same way anymore. God had spoken to my heart and it had finally clicked. I responded in prayer.

“Lord, even though I’m scared of what this means, I’m yours.”

As I said in my testimony, God rapidly began to work in my life after I got confirmed. The last two years of high school for me pretty much turned how I lived upside down. Shy to downright boisterous. Alone to “popular.” Trying to not get bullied to befriending all the bullied people. Afraid to speak up for what I believed in to going out of my way to share what I’ve experienced. Afraid of new things to going out of my way to bring people together. Worried about what the “cool” kids thought of me to worried about what the “unpopular” kids thought of themselves and encouraging them through friendship.

I’d always believed in God. But it was more of the existence of God, rather than a personal God who cared about me. Who desired that I live with Him. Being relatively out of touch with what goes on inside my head (extrovert problems?), it took a long time for Him to break through to me. In addition, since most other people didn’t seem to care about me much, why would God, the creator of everything, care about me?

After getting involved in my first “youth group” ever in my senior year of high school, an inspiring talk by one of my friends opened my eyes to an idea I had shelved for a long time: reading the bible. I actually was praying at least before bed every day for years by then, but often it felt like a monologue. Seeing every single one of those prayers answered helped. But a critical way of deepening my relationship with God was allowing Him to speak to me through scripture. Nowadays I’d call this the Catholic practice of Leccio Divina, but it’s kind of amazing how I ended up doing this without any instruction whatsoever. It didn’t come easy, though. I began with Genesis and read a couple hundred pages of the Old Testament before getting pretty bored. By this time it was the summer between high school and college, and I decided to skip ahead to the “good stuff,” the New Testament, starting with Matthew.

Look, as a Catholic I heard a Gospel reading every Sunday at mass, and between CCD and homilies, I didn’t learn many new things by reading the Gospels. What really impacted me was reading about the life of Jesus as a story every night for a couple of months straight that summer. I began to think of Jesus not as a historical figure, but as a man that I could resonate with. Just as Harry Potter came alive to me through reading the books, Jesus became more alive than ever to me through reading the Gospels.

My brother and I in Ephraim, July 2009.

My brother and I in Ephraim, July 2009.

By the end of the summer, I was through Matthew, Mark, and on to Luke. My family was up in Ephraim, Wisconsin on a little vacation at the end of July. Every night I got in my scripture and prayer, after everyone had gone to bed in our cabin.

God had worked in my heart so much by this time. I had read pretty much the same story of Jesus back to back to back in Matthew, Mark, and now in Luke. Until that night, it all still felt somewhat academic.

I was reading my chapter for the night, and suddenly I was overwhelmed. It all had become real to me finally. Jesus had many of the same struggles as I had. He desired that everyone came to know of God’s love for them, and that they would honor God as He deserves. Jesus didn’t live a “safe” life, He lived a life of difficulty and reckless abandon for God. Despite all of the failings of His disciples, the threats against Him from the Pharisees, and the general misunderstandings of the people of Israel, He still persevered on with His mission. He followed through, showing God’s love for us in the most tangible way by dying for us.

It all registered for me at that moment, and I knew that I couldn’t live the same way again. I needed to put God first, like Jesus. That is the only way to true life for myself, and for all of my family and friends. Everything else passes away, but our relationship with God lasts forever.

I knew that I might have to make radical decisions in order to live for God. That scared the heck out of me. But in my head, it made sense. If God died for me, the least that I could do is die for Him. Hopefully I won’t have to actually die like a martyr, but in everyday decisions I had so many opportunities to put God first. I tried to stop complaining, to stop sinning, to love everyone- even my enemies, to serve those in need, to encourage the downcast, to share my faith out of love, to appreciate life and live joyfully, to always make time for prayer, to worship God especially at mass and adoration.

I’m not a finished product now. But this was the moment when I stepped out of the boat with both feet. Please pray for me as I continue to try to follow Jesus, God bless you in your journey as well!

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A Missionary Church

“What would you change about the Church?”

I got asked that question a few days ago. My immediate reaction was something like this:

Of course, what I mean by that is that I wouldn’t change any of the doctrine or big T traditions of the Church. The Church is Jesus’, it isn’t mine to change. Jesus gave us the Church so that we can be converted, not so that we can convert it.

But besides the essentials that aren’t changeable, there is at least one thing that I’d change about many Catholic churches in the west: I’d make the churches more mission oriented and evangelistic. At my home parish, I don’t know if I ever see anyone bringing anyone new to church. It’s more of a family thing, where you only go to mass if your family has always went. In many ways, it strikes me as more of an exclusive club than a family of God. The Church is not supposed to be exclusive at all, but rather reach out to even the poorest and and the most helpless. Of course the Catholic Church is going to lose some members to Protestant churches in the west if this continues to happen. The truth is just not enough for people, they are looking for a relationship with God as well! They need to experience God! And despite having all of this on Protestant churches (MASS, apostolic succession, adoration, confession, charismatic groups, charities, bible studies, praise and worship, prayer groups), cradle Catholics often don’t even know the significance or don’t take advantage of it.

I recently went through my parish directory, and since we’ve been in the same parish all my life, I knew a lot of the names. Unfortunately, I didn’t know the names from parish activities. I knew the names from school, sports, and other community activities. That’s a major problem: the Church should be bringing people together, not isolating them! Many of those people do not go to Sunday mass any more, and I bet that a significant amount of them would return if only there was someone who would personally invite them back.

I don’t want to dis my home parish, they’re fully in union with the Pope and at masses I get to receive our Lord in the Eucharist and hear His Word in the Scriptures. I received all of my sacraments there and I love it. There are a ton of really fantastic people there. But I want to challenge my parish and all other parishes in the west (Europe and the Americas) to do more to embrace the Gospel. We must fully embrace Jesus and the Gospel message in our lives, and then from there we need to share it with as many people as we can! I’d love to see many small groups in my parish where the Sunday only parishioners can be individually shown the Gospel by others who know it better (starting with the priests!) so that they can do the same for others. I’d love to see this not only for adults but for the youth, so that they don’t scamper as far away from the church as possible after they are confirmed. I’d love for the parishioners to get to know each other outside of just saying “peace be with you” at mass. Make sure that the children see the priests and any other religious more often than just Sunday mornings, so they can see that they are real people too.

We obviously need a renewal in the everyday churches across the west. I know that it can be done: the student parish at the University of Illinois that I attended was solid: there were so many different ministries and retreats where students would interact with other students, staff, religious sisters, and priests in order to embrace the faith not just for Sundays but for a lifetime. Sure, there are improvements necessary everywhere, but this is a wonderful example of how it can be done. I can’t wait to try and share my experience at my new campus as a FOCUS missionary next year, and reach out to those who otherwise would be isolated from Jesus and never understand the Gospel.

Pope Francis has talked about this many times already in his pontificate, and one of his most famous quotes so far was:

“When the Church does not come out of itself to evangelize, it becomes self-referential and then gets sick.” – Pope Francis

He said this to show that simply going with the flow isn’t enough for us as Christians. As Christians we must constantly strive to put Jesus in the center of our lives. He emphasized that point in a tweet:

“We cannot be part-time Christians! We should seek to live our faith at every moment of every day.” – Pope Francis

A great follow-up on this post for anyone interested is the following book: Pope John Paul II and the New Evangelization by Ralph Martin and Peter Williamson – Amazon

Signs of the Transition to Manhood

Lately I’ve been thinking more about what it is to be a man. We talked about it in bible study this week for much longer than I was expecting, and it was one of the better discussions I’ve had in a few weeks.

This got me thinking of some of the talks that I heard at SEEK Conference last month about manhood. Dr. Johnathan Reyes did such a great job of comparing the signs that differentiates a boy from a man, and I’d like to share them with you:

  • A boy is occupied by looking for fun. A man is occupied by his duties.
  • A boy worries about whether others like him. A man cares more about whether he is respected.
  • A boy is self-focused in all that he does. A man keeps his thoughts and gaze outwards, thinking of others first.
  • A boy chooses the most comfortable option. A man makes sure to choose to do the right thing.
  • A boy avoids responsibility. A man is responsible. In the business world, a man accepts the responsibility of owning a project.
  • A boy becomes discouraged and gives up. A man perseveres through trial.
  • A boy doesn’t change the environment that he is in. A man improves every environment that he enters.
  • A boy views women as objects, as a “collection of body parts.” A man sees women as the whole person and respects and honors them in what he says and does.
  • A boy needs rules to act uprightly. A man is self-disciplined.
  • A boy brags about his accomplishments. A man does not exalt himself.
  • A boy avoids commitment. A man’s word is good and he honors vows to death.
  • A boy is governed by his passions. A man is governed by the truth.

This is a challenging list. But I think that it is important that we challenge ourselves and hold ourselves to a high standard (see the self-disciplined part). Are you where you want to be? I know that it’s a struggle. It is much easier to work on your journey to manhood when you do it together with a good friend or two. Share your desire to grow to become a better man with one another. And don’t forget to pray! Ask God to help give you the grace to overcome sinful tendencies.

Make war on sin, and start living like a man. Turn this Tedashii song up!